Michael McDonald is responsible for some of the most beloved songs of the last three decades. After leading the Doobie Brothers through the most successful phase of their career with hits like "Takin' it to the Streets," "What a Fool Believes," and "Minute by Minute," McDonald embarked on a distinguished solo career whose highlights include rousing duets with such R&B greats as James Ingram and Patti Labelle. His husky baritone voice and dramatic piano-based tunes remain one of the most iconic sounds in pop.

This was supposed to be No Doubt's year off.

"We'd decided to take some time apart after touring behind our last record, Rock Steady," explains band bassist Tony Kanal. "Being in a band together this long is like being married. We wanted to reenergize ourselves and get back together when we had something to say musically."

Brett Tuggle is one of the most in-demand keyboardists in rock, with credits that include Stevie Nicks, David Lee Roth, Chris Isaak, Coverdale/Page, Steve Lukather, Joe Satriani, and Whitesnake - not to mention his current touring gig with the reunited Fleetwood Mac.

Singer/songwriter Nikka Costa makes no bones about her affinity for the music of the decade in which she was born.

"When in doubt, go back to the '70s," she says. "There's no disputing the creative freedom of that era. There was so much going on in the world that inspired artists. Music was less about business and marketing. And the music was just plain better. There's still good music coming out today, but it's harder and harder to find."

Sometimes you get it right the first time. Take the case of Hoobastank, a young California rock quartet who scored a major success with their self-titled 2001 debut. Their sound melded the dark aggression of such predecessors as Tool and Alice in Chains with a unique brand of radio-ready tunefulness. The result: The radio/video hits "Crawling in the Dark" and "Running Away."

Twenty years ago, when MIDI was young and the airwaves percolated with the first generation of synth-pop hits, David Frank ruled the charts, both as a member of the hitmaking duo The System, and as a songwriter and arranger for such artists as Phil Collins, Robert Palmer, Chaka Khan, and others.

You may not have heard of Emil Richards, but you've definitely heard him. A lot.

Wth 1,800 film score to his scredit, Richards, 71, is in all likelihood the most recorded mallet player in history. He also boasts session credits with 750 recording artists, from Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland to George Harrison and Frank Zappa.

Some CeCe Winans albums feature up-tempo, radio-ready R&B tracks. Others, like her latest release, Throne Room, are straight-up gospel projects. But the way the Nashville-based singer sees it, both approaches come from the same place.

Some musicians seem to have been born with Nashville style. Others have to cultivate one.

You can file keyboardist and songwriter Eddie Kilgallon in the latter category. "I'm a native New Yorker who moved to Nashville in '93," he says. "I had to get accustomed to some things, like putting cornbread in your beans. But a songwriter friend had invited me down, and as soon as I put on headphones in the studio and started playing, it was a life-changing moment. I knew I was moving to Nashville."

Does Black see a connection between his drawing and his music? ""I think they do influence each other," he replies. "I think I have a strong sense of visual things in general. When I play live, I definitely think of what I'm doing visually - the way my body curves to the music and things like that. A dance looks beautiful because of the way it looks in relation to the music. So yes, the music and visuals bleed into each other."

"MY PARENTS USED TO GO TO THE SAVOY BALLROOM IN NEW YORK TO dance and hear great music," says Brown, whose credits include stints with Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye, Stanley Clarke, and Chick Corea. "It turns out, my mom was dancing at the Savoy when she was pregnant with yours truly. Guess those grooves and rhythms got through!"

The American Idol series has rocketed a number of artists to sudden fame. And a surprising number of them rely on the hands and ears of one man: Jason Halbert

Halbert has just completed a Clay Aiken/Kelly Clarkson co-headlining tour, on which he served as keyboardist and musical director for both artists. Before that he worked with Idol favorites Justin Guarini and Ruben Studdar

Atlanta-based aggro-rockers Sevendust have just released an unplugged album. But don't get the idea they've mellowed out.

Step One:

Make a list of the world's most beloved singers and songwriters.

Step Two:

Make a list of the artists Phil Ramone has produced or engineered. Or just skip step two, since you've already completed it.

Nashville's Deborah Allen has published over 1,000 songs. She's recorded a string of hit country records, including her signature smash, "Baby I Lied." She's made forays into jazz singing, record producing, and running her own label. But it all flows from a single bit of advice from her mother: "Sing it from the heart."

World's Deadliest Volcanoes. World's Scariest Police Shootouts. Prisoners Out of Control. Real Vampires Revealed. Reading the long list of Scooter Pietsch's credits makes "TV composer" sound like one dangerous profession.

It is, Pietsch confirms, though natural disasters, violent criminals, and the undead are the least of his problems. "The schedules are extremely difficult. The personalities involved can be very trying. You always have to be personable and positive, even when people are calling to demand the sort of changes that produce a barrage of cussing as soon as you hang up the phone."

For more than 20 years Dave Weckl's masterful drumming has captivated musicians and fans alike. His immaculate tone and flawless groove have earned Weckl performing and recording credits with such pop artists as Simon & Garfunkel, George Benson, Diana Ross, Peabo Bryson, and Robert Plant. Meanwhile, his astonishing jazz-fusion work with Chick Corea's Akoustic and elektric bands and his own Dave Weckl band have consistently stretched the boundaries of drum virtuosity. A committed music educator and clinician, Dave has also created many instructional products.

Blessed with a warm, expressive voice and a knack for songcraft, Nashville artist Lari White landed recording and publishing deals soon after moving to Music City in 1988. She went on to record a series of successful albums, most notably her 1994 smash, Wishes. But for White, something was missing.

Dedicate yourself to playing complete, hard-to-categorize instrumental music. Ensure that almost every tune in your repertoire is in odd meter. And while you're at it, make your lead instrument a banjo.

It sounds like a surefire recipe for obscurity. But Bela Fleck & the Flecktones have parlayed that unlikely formula into a successful 15 year career, winning a wildly devoted audience that's nearly as eclectic as the band's music. And since 1997, a cornerstone of the Flecktones' sounds has been the adventurous reed work of saxophonist Jeff Coffin.